Colonial America

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Compare and contrast English colonization in Chesapeake Bay and New England.

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The primary differences between the Chesapeake Bay and New England colonies were related to the establishment of cash crop agriculture in the former. This led to different labor and social structures. Culturally, the New England colonies were established by religious dissenters, and Puritanism played a central role in their society and culture. Colonies in each region had similar relationships with Native peoples, and featured representative governments.

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The Chesapeake Bay was settled more than a decade before New England, and the motives for settling and establishing a colony there were primarily economic (though it also served as a strategic foothold against Spanish expansion.) The climate in the Chesapeake region made cash-crop agriculture viable there. The crop of choice was tobacco, introduced in a marketable form a few years after settlement. Tobacco, like other cash crops, created a demand for labor and for land, for which the colonists in Virginia and Maryland turned to first indentured and then enslaved labor. By the early seventeenth century, the Chesapeake Bay was a slave society, one in which slavery was the dominant form of labor. This fostered considerable inequality, both along race and class lines.

New England, on the other hand, lacked the fertile soils to support cash crop agriculture, and thus developed a more diverse economy based on small farms, commodities such as timber, fishing, and whaling, and, given the good ports in the region, Atlantic commerce. This led to, at least in the first century of settlement, less inequality and less enslaved laborers. Slavery existed in New England, but generally more in the towns than on the small family farms that characterized the region. Perhaps the most significant difference between the two regions was the fact that many New England settlers came to the region out of religious motives. Many were Puritans and other dissenters who sought to establish a religious commonwealth. The Church of England was established in Virginia, but it was never as central to the colony's development as Puritanism was in New England, where religion undergirded politics, society, and culture.

Some similarities existed between the two regions, or at least the colonies that took root there. In both areas, at least some degree of representative government existed at the colonial level—the Virginia House of Burgesses was the first representative body in British America, and the New England colonies featured similar assemblies in addition to the famed town meetings. Initially at least, both sets of colonies were established by joint stock companies, and were responsible to their shareholders for turning a profit. Finally, both New England and the Chesapeake experienced violent conflicts with Native Americans over land. In the seventeenth century, Virginians defeated Native peoples in a series of conflicts known as the Powhatan Wars, and New Englanders nearly wiped out the region's Native populaion in the Pequot War and King Philip's War. In short, both New Englanders and Virginians violently expropriated Native American land when they were powerful enough to do so.

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